Barnsley secured a precious win as Lewin Nyatanga’s goal midway through the second half and a late own goal from Crewe’s substitute goalkeeper Paul Rachubka proved the difference.
Joint caretaker bosses Mark Burton and Paul Heckingbottom got themselves off the mark with a win in their second game in charge, but it had been far from a spectacular performance from the under-pressure Reds.
The hosts looked a different side after Nyatanga’s 66th-minute goal.
They suddenly had a spring in their collective step, and the recalled James Bailey went close with an effort from a tight angle.
Kane Hemmings then produced a neat turn and shot which fizzed inches over the crossbar, before the hosts grabbed a victory-clinching goal in rather comical style.
George Smith’s in-swinging corner-kick was headed high into the air by Crewe defender George Ray, and as the ball dropped back down, experienced substitute Rachubka - on his debut - could only palm the ball into his own net.
It didn’t matter how scruffy that goal was, it led to a collective sigh of relief around the stadium at full-time as the Reds had got home despite a poor showing in the opening 65 minutes.
Barnsley (4-4-2): Davies; Smith, Cranie, M’voto, Nyatanga; Scowen, Hourihane, Pearson, Bailey; Lita, Hemmings.Subs: Dibble, Lalkovic, Holgate, Waring, Berry, O’Sullivan, Oates.
Crewe (3-5-2): Garratt; Davis, Ray, Tate; Baillie, Jones, Ness, Grant, Turton; Haber, Ajose. Subs: Rachubka, Inman, Cooper, Waters, Nolan, Leigh, Stewart.
Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire).