Sunderland stunned by Johnson’s plea

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Manager Sam Allardyce said last week that the 28-year-old would feature for the first team throughout his trial, which begins tomorrow at Bradford Crown Court.

However, during yesterday’s hearing Johnson pleaded guilty to grooming a 15-year-old schoolgirl and admitted kissing and touching her.

He now faces the prospect of a prison term with guidelines on sentencing for the grooming offence giving a maximum of two years and six months.

Johnson will stand trial on two further counts of sexual activity with a child under 16 — both involving penetration — which he denies. The maximum sentence for those offences is 14 years.

Sportsmail understands that neither Sunderland nor manager Allardyce were aware that he was about to plead guilty. We also understand he will no longer be available for selection with senior staff conscious of the backlash if he does appear.

And fans believe that is the right stance for the club to take.

Jim Gilling, secretary of the Coxhoe Supporters’ Group, told Sportsmail: ‘He should not play and the majority of supporters would agree with that.

‘The reaction on our Facebook page has been very strong, supporters saying that he should never play for the club again after admitting the two charges, never mind play on Saturday.

‘I do not know if he told the club about his intention to plead guilty beforehand, because he should not have been playing if they did know.

‘However, if they were unaware I have previously stated that a man is innocent until proven guilty and that was perhaps their standpoint.

‘But now he has pleaded guilty it would be wrong if he played and I would expect a negative reaction if he did.’

Johnson, who joined Sunderland from Manchester City in a £10million deal in 2012, faces an uncertain future at the Stadium of Light.

The club initially suspended the England winger when he was arrested in March — he was charged in April.

But he was reinstated and helped the team escape relegation from the Premier League last season after he indicated his intention to plead not guilty.

And Allardyce thought that would remain the case when he was asked last week if Johnson would be available to play during his trial, simply answering ‘yes’ when the question was put to him.

Johnson came off the bench to score a free-kick at Liverpool on Saturday as Sunderland fought back from two goals down to claim a valuable point in this season’s battle against relegation. However, he has scored just twice from 20 appearances this season and has failed to win a regular starting spot under Dick Advocaat and, since the Dutchman resigned in October, new manager Allardyce.

It is all a far cry from the skinny teenager who dared to dribble and made others dare to dream of the future which lay ahead of him after breaking into the Middlesbrough first team at 17.

After six seasons at the Riverside he was snapped up by Manchester City for £7million but starting opportunities were limited under manager Roberto Mancini.

The move to boyhood club Sunderland was supposed to act as the rebirth of a player heralded as one of the most talented of his generation.

Later, he reflected on his time at City. ‘There’s a temptation (to sign for them), of course. The wages, you’re flattered when City are after you, but you’ll go there and be third choice,’ he said.

‘When I was there, I was always the one who would be dropped when the manager rotated the team. I wouldn’t sign for them now if I was a young English player.’

But Johnson has failed to live up to expectations on Wearside.

For while he is undoubtedly a terrace hero, having scored four times during a run of six straight victories over North East rivals Newcastle, the club had expected far more when they laid down an eight-figure sum and wages of £50,000 per week. His future off the pitch will now be played out in court over the next 10 days.

Johnson was joined at yesterday’s hearing, which lasted nearly five hours, by his partner, Stacey Flounders — the mother of their one-year-old girl — and his father, David.

He wore a black suit, white shirt and grey tie and spoke only to confirm his name and enter the two guilty pleas.

A jury of six men and six women was sworn in before Judge Jonathan Rose and was then sent home.

The trial begins tomorrow. – Daily Mail


Original source: Sunderland stunned by Johnson’s plea

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