Canberra FC's Danai Gapare, right, was sent off against Belconnen United. Photo: Graham Tidy
If controversy isn't Canberra FC's middle name then it must be their last.
The reigning champion had midfielder Danai Gapare controversially sent off at the end of the first half for abusing the referee as FC bowed out of the finals race with a 2-1 loss to arch-rival Belconnen United at Hawker yesterday.
Belconnen will now face Cooma in the grand final at McKellar Park on Saturday.
Canberra FC will not contest the grand final of the ACT Men's Premier League for the first time since 2006, with the club only missing two grand finals since 2001.
The 2006 grand final was also the only time Cooma has won the decider.
FC coach Miro Trninic admitted Gapare had let the side down but felt referee Greg Taylor should have paid his side a free kick earlier, which meant the young winger's sending off would never have happened.
Gapare's moment of madness came after Matt Valeri had opened the scoring on the half-hour mark with a blistering drive that FC goalkeeper Ben Klug did well to get a hand on, only for it to fly into the corner.
Valeri almost scored again in the second half with a similarly fierce drive that Klug managed to turn wide.
United coach Steve Forshaw had nothing but praise for his midfielder.
''Played well didn't he, Matt. That was a gutsy win, it was a gutsy performance, it might not have been one for the purists but it was a tremendous show of character by our guys,'' Forshaw said.
With momentum and a man advantage, Belconnen looked like they were going to run away with it and they extended their lead through a Taylor Beaton tap-in after 55 minutes.
But if the 'C' is for controversy, then 'F' must be for fighting spirit as the Deakin-based club clawed its way back into the game through a Marcin Zygmunt finish from a delightful Aaron Evans cross.
They created several chances to send the game into extra time but United managed to cling on to its narrow lead.
''I'm happy with the second half, but I'm not happy with the first half,'' Trninic said.
''The first half we didn't play how we've played the last two games, but the second half I'm more than happy with the boys' performance … in the end 10 against 14, it's not a bad outcome for us.''
AT A GLANCE
ACT Men's Premier League, preliminary final: BELCONNEN UNITED 2 (Matt Valeri 31, Taylor Beaton 55) bt CANBERRA FC 1 (Marcin Zygmunt 69)