London - Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce said on Thursday that he was "gobsmacked" to learn that disgraced footballer Adam Johnson had pleaded guilty to under-age sex charges.
Johnson, 28, is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl on Wednesday, having previously admitted to one count of grooming and one count of sexual activity with a child, for which he was sacked by Sunderland. He was acquitted of another charge.
Sunderland have been criticised for not suspending Johnson after he admitting to kissing the girl, but Allardyce said the winger had only continued to play because the club thought he was pleading not guilty.
"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 (Johnson's intention to plead) not guilty on all charges," Allardyce, who was appointed after Johnson's arrest, told a press conference.
"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.
"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."
During the trial, the court heard that Johnson had admitted to kissing the girl during a meeting with Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne in May last year.
Sunderland suspended Johnson following his arrest on March 2 last year, but he was allowed to return to action a fortnight later and continued playing for the club until the weekend before his trial began last month.
Sunderland sacked Johnson after he admitted to charges of grooming and sexual activity with a child on the first day of his trial.
Britain's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has said that Sunderland should have suspended Johnson after he told them that he had kissed the girl.
"If they had known he had kissed a girl prior to his guilty plea, then we think they should have suspended him pending the ongoing investigation," a spokesman for the charity said.
"It would have sent the right message to people that this is a serious offence and needed to be properly investigated."
In a statement released after Wednesday's verdicts were delivered, Sunderland said they were stunned when Johnson pleaded guilty to two offences on the opening day of his trial.
The Premier League club said that, had they known he was intending to plead guilty to any of the offences, he would have been sacked immediately.
They also "refuted in the strongest possible terms" the suggestion that they had known Johnson would change his initial not guilty plea to guilty at the last minute in order to play for the club for as long as possible.
Johnson, capped 12 times by England, is due to be sentenced in two to three weeks. He was told to expect a custodial sentence by the judge at Bradford Crown Court in northern England.
The NSPCC branded his conduct "predatory and inexcusable".