Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce insists he only played Adam Johnson while he awaited trial on child sex offences because the player maintained his innocence.
The 28-year-old midfielder, who was sacked by the club after admitting charges of engaging in sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl and grooming on the eve of his court appearance last month, was convicted on a further count of sexual activity with a child and acquitted of another on Wednesday. He now faces a lengthy spell in jail as pressure mounts on the Black Cats to explain what they knew and when amid claims made in court that they continued to play him despite knowing the detail of the allegations, something they have strenuously denied.
Manager Allardyce, who was appointed in October, some seven months after Johnson’s arrest, admitted he was “gobsmacked” when he learned of the guilty pleas. He said: “I am hugely disappointed on Adam Johnson and what has happened, but my sympathies don’t lie with him, they lie with the victim and the family.
“Adam, as far as I know, was pleading not guilty all the way through from the day I arrived – obviously, this incident had happened well before I got here. “On the basis of that information to me that he was pleading not guilty on all charges is why we continued to let him train and play for us. “We are all, at the football club, stunned and shocked the day before the trial started when we heard a guilty plea come out. I was sat at home when it came on the news and I just was gobsmacked because as far as we were concerned, it was not guilty on all charges. “Now the judgement has been made, we all feel extremely let down by what has happened and by what Adam has done, and certainly feel a lot of sympathy for the victim and the family. “That has now hopefully given them some peace and they can now get on with their lives and we can get on with our football.”