HIBERNIAN manager Alex McLeish said last night that young striker Kenny Miller had been ''hung out to dry and built up for a fall'' by events leading up to his international debut for Scotland's Under-21s against France earlier this week.

Although making it clear he was not wanting his words of concern billed as an argument between himself and international manager Craig Brown, it is clear the Easter Road coach is unhappy at all the pre-match hype that surrounded the 20-year-old.

Despite his conciliatory statement, it seems clear McLeish, who must be one of the front-runners to take over from Brown when he steps down from international management, is deeply concerned at the pressure that was heaped on his player.

The striker had been heavily tipped to be included in Brown's squad against France on Wednesday and had his talent talked up by the Scotland management team. Instead, however, he found himself leading the line for the Under-21 side the night before.

As it turned out, he had a

disappointing match in the 2-0 defeat at Rugby Park, and McLeish believes the youngster should be left alone to develop at his own pace, rather than being pushed forward as one of the great young hopes for the future of Scottish football.

Talking at Easter Road yesterday, McLeish said: ''I felt Kenny was hung out to dry and I was disappointed how he was built up for a fall. I forecast that, and that's the way it turned out.

''There was too much talk about him before the international, and he didn't deserve that. He is a good young talent and we should not be building him up for a fall like that.

''I felt there was always a chance the French Under-21s were going to keep him quiet on Tuesday as they are pushing to get into the full side, while the full side playing the following night at Hampden were in first gear and I felt he would have done better in that game.

''I'm not going to get into a slagging match with Craig, and I could see why the newspapers would ask him about Kenny, because he did so well against the Old Firm and there is obviously the comparison with Mark Burchill at Celtic.

''However, it might have been better for him not to mention Kenny for this game and let him progress at his own pace, and I would have preferred the whole thing to be low key.

''Kenny has a long way to go in terms of international matches and he has been exposed to a lot of physical and mental pressures over the last few months, which he has coped with admirably, but we must be careful with that and look for signs of staleness, or him being jaded, as we want to keep him fresh.''

Underlying McLeish's argument is his concern the hype concerning Miller will start again in advance of next month's friendly with Holland, and that it would have been good to have had the player in the full national squad for the France game just to get that particular hurdle out of the way, whether he played or not.

''International caps can't be given out like confetti, but I would prefer his progress to be transitional and the next step would be to the full squad, but clearly, if he keeps banging in the goals, then Craig Brown can't ignore him.''

In an era when there seems to be a dearth of young talent coming through the ranks, many have latched on to Miller as one of the players who can break through to the national scene and make an impact, something that McLeish believes will happen - but only if the 20-year is handled correctly and allowed to fulfil his

undoubted potential naturally, and without a lot of hype surrounding him.