Jon Russell’s early strike moved Accrington Stanley into the top half of League One after a deserved victory at Northampton Town.

Stanley, playing their first league game in three weeks, were full value for their win at Sixfields and should have won by a bigger margin given their dominance in the game.

But a well-worked goal just two minutes in, scored by Chelsea loanee Russell, was the difference in the end in what was a battle from minute one to 94.

The goal was a real moment of quality, and 21-year-old midfielder Russell was an imposing figure in the middle of the park.

Victory made it five wins from eight games for Stanley who head to Swindon Town on Tuesday night.

John Coleman made seven changes from the side that progressed in the Papa John’s Trophy in midweek with Stanley still coming to terms with their post Covid-related absence.

They flew out of the blocks however, leading inside two minutes. Dion Charles, on his 50th appearance for the club, played through Russell who tucked home his second of the season with a fine finish.

Northampton’s approach was never going to be subtle, while the conditions didn’t lend themselves to a free-flowing game.

Stanley were having to stand tall to a barrage of forward balls, but almost found their lead cut inside six minutes, Sam Hoskins’ deflected free kick hitting the post.

Colby Bishop went into the book following a collision with Alan Sheehan, one of a number of decisions Coleman, who voiced his disapproval, felt went against his side.

The Reds were on top however, and Russell was at the heart of their best moments, curling a shot just wide of the post after being teed up by Joe Pritchard.

Striker Charles was frustrating his team-mates with his hold-up play at times, but there was no doubting his threat, as he and Bishop began to link-up.

The big man played in the little man allowing Charles to cut in from the left, his shot towards the near post taking a deflection before clipping the upright.

And 10 minutes before the break they linked up again, Bishop heading into the path of Charles whose touch took him away from the covering Cian Bolger, but Jonathan Mitchell stood up well to deny him with his legs.

The third chance of the half for Charles, three minutes before the break, was a gilt-edge chance that should have put Stanley 2-0 up. He was found completely unmarked at the far post from a Matt Butcher free kick, but got his header all wrong as he failed to hit the target.

For all their long balls, their wasn’t much to concern Toby Savin in the Stanley goal after Hoskins’ early free kick. That wasn’t until just before Charles’ third chance when the giant figure of Harry Smith headed down into the path of unmarked team-mate 18 yards out. Thankfully for Stanley that figure was central defender Fraser Horsfall whose effort was straight at Savin.

Pritchard had been having an enterprising afternoon at left wing back, and showed his attacking instincts seven minutes into a second half that Stanley had started well. He ran across the edge of the box to find a shooting angle, eventually doing so, but Mitchell was well placed to hold his effort.

The hour mark passed in what was continuing to be an attritional affair played in increasingly wet and windy conditions.

Pritchard tried to use that to his advantage, going to goal from a free kick wide on the right as Mitchell inched to his right expecting a cross, the on-loan keeper having to move swiftly to his left to keep it out.

At the midway point of the second half, from another set play, it was a more regulation shot at goal from Pritchard, this time from a central position 25 yards which Mitchell tipped over. Stanley thought they had a second from the resulting corner, another excellent Pritchard delivery flicked goalwards by Matt Butcher whose header bounced down off the underside of the bar, though the whole ball wasn’t adjudged to have crossed the line.

Northampton made two subs in quick succession, in a bid to change their fortunes, but Coleman resisted the temptation to change as the game ticked into the final 15 minutes.

But that was likely down to the fact his side remained on top, Pritchard flashing a shot across the six yard box which narrowly missed both the far post and the sliding Colby Bishop.

The thought that Stanley’s missed opportunities might come back to bite them started to grow as Charles squandered a chance with three minutes to go. Russell broke again through the middle to tee up the attacker on the left edge of the box, and after getting the ball onto his right foot, poked his shot narrowly wide of the post.

There was plenty of defensive clearances to make before the end, but Stanley stuck to their task manfully, to make it back-to-back league victories, both with a clean sheet.

Northampton: Mitchell, Bolger, Horsfall, Sheehan, Harriman (Holmes, 70), Watson, Sowerby, Adams, Hoskins, Smith, Rose (Ashley-Seal, 71)

Subs: Arnold, Missilou, Roberts, Marshall, Chukwuemeka

Stanley: Savin, Nottingham, Hughes, Burgess, Rodgers, Conneely, Russell, Butcher, Pritchard, Bishop, Charles

Subs: Baxter, Sama, Barclay, McConville, Uwakwe, Fenlon, Mansell