By Gabriel Tan
The Young Tigers failed to end their first season in Singapore football's top flight on a high at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday, as they succumbed to Mustafic Fahrudin's 41st-minute penalty, which was controversially awarded by Leow Thiam Hoe after Aleksandar Duric had gone down in the box under Shahrul Saad's challenge.
The defeat leaves the Malaysian outfit ahead of fourth-placed Albirex Niigata on goal difference, but they will know have to wait for the conclusion of the White Swans' game against Gombak United on Sunday to find out if they will finish in the top three.
Nonetheless, Ong was effusive in his praise of his players for their displays this year, but blasted Leow for some poor calls, including his decision not to punish Noh Alam Shah for a vicious tackle on Nazirul Naim in the third minute.
"They [Harimau] have showed great attitude and character all season long," he said. "What more can I ask for?
"They've been playing under tremendous pressure but have handled it and I salute my boys.
"Of course they have passed the test, but tonight [Friday] the referee failed. Alam Shah's tackle on Naim in the third minute could have broken his leg, and there was clear intent on his face.
"As professionals, these tackles are unacceptable and set bad examples. Have you seen my boys play like this?"
The ex-Malaysia international was also unsure about the penalty the Stags were awarded, but admits there were ultimately plenty of positives to take from the campaign.
"I'll let you judge if it had been a penalty or not," Ong added. "I don't want to get into trouble and I'll have to look at the video.
"Duric is a very experienced player, but the referee wasn't.
"One of the biggest positives of this season is that I have managed to give playing time to a lot of new players like [D.] Saarvindran, Shahrul, Nazirul and Ariff [Farhan], who's only 16.
"This is one benefit of playing in the S.League and regardless of whether we finish fourth and third, it's still a good achievement."
Ong also confirmed the Football Association of Malaysia are yet to decide if Harimau Muda will be playing in the S.League next season.