City players defend 'Tiny' as controversial tackle divides opinion

The man whose giant frame and placid demeanour has earned him the nickname "Tiny" Taylor was still dividing opinion yesterday as the football world absorbed the shock of Eduardo's horrifying injuries at St Andrew's on Saturday.

Eduardo had promised to be one of the stars of the international summer after helping Croatia to qualify for the European Championships, and his national captain, Niko Kovac, was among those to express fury over Martin Taylor's tackle. "I can't believe this happened," Kovac said. "Also I can't believe that such brutality still exists in football."

Arsenal will provide an update on Eduardo's condition today, but the Croatia coach, Slaven Bilic, has apparently spoken with him by telephone and found him already adamant that he will play again. "The fact he won't play at the Euros is less important," Bilic said. "Most important is that he recovers as soon as possible, and resumes his footballing career. He is a great guy."

At the same time, character witnesses were rushing to the defence of Taylor, a father of three who has fought his way back into the Birmingham side after initially being out of favour with the new manager, Alex McLeish.

Stephen Kelly, playing alongside Taylor on Saturday, believes that he need not even have been sent off. "It wasn't a malicious tackle," he said. "The reason the ref has sent him off is because he has seen Eduardo has broken his leg," the defender continued.

"It can happen. It is an accident. Tiny didn't go in two-footed, didn't lunge, didn't dive in. Everyone knows what Tiny is like. He's such a nice bloke, he hasn't got a malicious bone in his body."

Another of his partners in the Birmingham defence, Liam Ridgewell, declared: "Tiny's a fantastic guy, down-to-earth, with a loving family. He's a top man and he's cut up about it. It was a freak accident."

The goalkeeper, Maik Taylor, agreed: "I don't think there was any malice at all, and was surprised to see any card. I thought he genuinely went for the ball, wasn't high or anything, and unfortunately he has caught Eduardo. We accept it is a very serious injury, but I was right behind the challenge and I thought he just tried to play the ball. Eduardo has stepped across and he has just caught him."

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