THE father of Saints starlet Theo Walcott has saluted Harry Redknapp for refusing to wrap the 16-year-old in a protective blanket of publicity.

Redknapp stunned Don Walcott this week when he not only took his son on tour with Saints' senior professionals, but also started with him on the right wing during last Tuesday's 2-1 friendly win at Motherwell.

Walcott impressed to such an extent he had another run-out as a second-half sub at Kilmarnock three days later. The England Under-17 international, wearing the No 7 shirt made famous by Matt Le Tissier, set up Saints' first goal at Motherwell with a trademark shimmy and cross which was fired home by 18-year-old midfielder Andrew Surman.

"As you can imagine I'm chuffed to monkeys," said Don. "I was surprised when I found out Theo was going to Scotland, I certainly never expected him to play - I just thought he would go for the experience.

"Fair play to Harry, he's a wise man - I'm glad he played Theo up in Scotland rather than in front of a few thousand Saints fans at St Mary's.

"I spoke to Theo after the game and he was buzzing - it's great experience for him to be in the same dressing room as people like Nigel Quashie, Dennis Wise and Paul Telfer, guys who know what it's all about."

Walcott has only been a full-time Saints academy scholar for less than a fortnight after finishing his GCSEs at the Compton School in Berkshire.

He was only 16 years and 118 days old when he started at Fir Park last week, and if he continues to impress Redknapp is in line to break Danny Wallace's record for the youngest ever player to appear in a competitive Saints first team match.

Wallace, pictured below, like Walcott a winger, was just 16 years and 314 days old when Lawrie McMenemy thrust him into the cauldron of Old Trafford for his debut almost a quarter of a century ago.

"That would be a nice record for Theo, it's about time it was broken - it's stood for almost 25 years," said Don. "Records are there to be broken.

"It would have been nice to have broken the Premiership record for the youngest ever player, but Danny Wallace's would be better because it's a club record.

"But we're not getting carried away, it's only two 45 minutes after all.

"I know the staff at Southampton will keep Theo's feet on the ground, but he's a great kid - very level-headed, he will know he just has to keep working hard."

Walcott, a distant relative of West Indies cricket legend Clyde, will need to play for Saints before January 25, 2006 if he is to break Wallace's record.

He is already the youngest player in Saints reserves history, having played against Watford last September aged 15 years and 175 days, beating the previous record, ironically held by Surman, by 21 days.