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Floreat Athena are floored by Niccolo Sabatini's late winner. Photo by FotoEnzo

Top Four Cup: Sabatini is Perth’s extra-time hero

Report by Tommy Doleman

Niccolo Sabatini struck in the second-last minute of extra time to send Perth SC to the final of the Top Four Cup.

Sabatini cut inside before hitting a left-footed shot from the edge of the area which Floreat Athena keeper Jason Saldaris could only defelct on to the post before it bounced over the line to gve the NPL WA champions a 2-1 win in the Preliminary Final at Dorrien Gardens.

Now they get a chance to avenge last weekend’s semi-final loss to Inglewood United when the two sides meet again in the final at Perth Plasterboard Centre Stadium on Saturday.

The 25-time league champions will get a second crack at Inglewood in the space of a week, after this season’s NPL WA runners-up surprised Perth with late drama of their own four days ago.

Floreat had advanced from the minor semi-final with a 3-2 win over Balcatta and can take plenty of positives from Garrett McDuling’s first full season despite the cruel late blow, as they won a second consecutive Night Series Final and a second Belt Up State Cup Final in four years.

Perth were out of the blocks quickly in a high-octane opening from the Premiers, as Sabatini forced Jason Saldaris into a save at his near post, before Floreat’s stopper saved with his feet to deny Paul Zimarino.

At the other end, Ludovic Boi’s turn and shot was blocked, while Robert Petkov’s hold-up play and movement caused Perth problems with Athena’s top-scorer flashing wide of the post.

The visitors had seemingly seized the momentum, but Perth took the lead five minutes before half time as Sabatini and Zimarino showed patience in the area to tee up Kristian Santich for his second NPLWA goal of 2019.

But Perth would be pegged back 30 seconds after the interval. Floreat created a flowing move down the right flank, before Dean Evans drove a long-range daisy-cutter beyond Aleksic into the bottom corner.

Evans’ goal meant both teams had scored in 12 of 13 previous NPL WA meetings between the sides and the chances kept flowing as the half wore on.

Phil Arnold glanced Petkov’s cross wide of the post before Zimarino miscued a volley having found space in the area, as neither team could be split after 90 minutes of a tight contest.

Extra-time came and went as tired legs came to the fore and a real war of attrition developed. Worryingly for Perth, Zimarino limped off mid-way through extra time, while Aleksic tipped Chris Saldaris’ header over the bar.

Penalties looked a certainty to decide Inglewood’s opponent after an evenly-matched affair, before Sabatini stepped up with a swerving shot from distance to break Floreat hearts.

It was the third time in season 2019 this fixture ended 2-1 to the home team as Perth completed a trifecta of teams representing the club on Saturday’s Top Four Cup Final’s day.

Star player: Niccolo Sabatini (Perth SC)

NPL WA Preliminary Final
Perth SC 2
(Santich 40min, Sabatini 118)
Floreat Athena 1
(Evans 46)

Saturday 10 August, 2019
Dorrien Gardens
Kick-off: 3:00pm
Referee: Josh Mannella

Perth SC: GK: Dejan ALEKSIC, 5. Niccolo SABATINI, 6. Harley ORR, 12. Jordan DE LEO, 13. Rocco PIZZATA, 14. Kristian SANTICH, 16. Kieran COLWELL, 17. Frank FURFARO (3. Andreas THEODOSIADES 77’), 18. Michael DOMFEH (9. Gustavo CATARCIONE 85’), 19. Bojan RADINOVIC, 20. Paul ZIMARINO (7. Aleks JOVIC 106′)
Substitutes not used: RGK: Adrian SINAGRA, 15. Nicholas MESSINA
Yellow cards: Pizzata 61′
Red cards: Nil

Floreat Athena: GK: Jason SALDARIS, 4. Adrian MADASCHI, 6. Jesse FULLER, 9. Robert PETKOV (32. Robert HARDING 113′), 10. Nick AMBROGIO (25. Adam FALCONE 100’), 11. Dennis GALAN, 14. Ludovic BOI, 15. Chris SALDARIS, 16. Ryan MALTON (5. Thomas JEBB 79’), 17. Dean EVANS, 18. Phil ARNOLD (29. Jack PAINTER-ANDREWS 90+3′)
Substitutes not used: RGK: Jordan BARBAS
Yellow cards: Saldaris 28′, Madaschi 28′, Falcone 101′
Red cards: Nil