Two questions loomed large over this League One fixture.
Could Nigel Clough win his first game in charge of Sheffield United and which Crewe Alexandra team would turn up?
Fortunately for the South Yorkshire club’s new manager, it was the one that has now conceded three or more goals on nine occasions since August rather than the side which frustrated Peterborough and Preston North End, although the final result owed as much to United’s sense of conviction and purpose as it did the visitors’ leaky defence.
“You’ve got to be ruthless in both penalty boxes if you want to achieve anything,” Harry Maguire, who claimed two of the three goals responsible for lifting United out of the bottom four, said. “And that’s what we were out there.
“Slowly but surely, we’ve been building some momentum and I think that’s beginning to show.
“It’s still very early days and we’re still at the wrong end of the table. But, at the same time, we still believe anything is possible.
“The key now is to try and keep this run going and see where it takes us. We’ve got to stay focused and keep doing the right things.”
Clough outlined his plan to blend incisive passing with pragmatism after being unveiled as David Weir’s permanent successor on Wednesday.
United, despite producing a far from vintage performance, demonstrated both on occasion here as they stretched their unbeaten run to three games.
Certainly, they look unrecognisable compared to the side which took only five points from their opening 11 outings of the campaign.
Lyle Taylor, among several players namechecked by Clough during his post-match interview, proved a handful for Crewe’s rearguard while Stephen McGinn, who created both of Maguire’s efforts before Ryan Flynn added a third, was full of energy in midfield.
When substitute Max Clayton reduced the deficit during the closing stages of the second half, the nerves which tormented United during the last throes of Weir’s reign briefly rose to the surface.
However, they recovered their pose to mark Clough’s debut in Bramall Lane’s technical area with a deserved win.
“Nigel came in and kept things really simple,” Maguire said. “You can tell he’s a really hands-on type of coach, though, and that’s good.
“Obviously he comes with a great reputation and so all of the lads are excited about working with him and his staff.
“He didn’t make a big fuss when he met us all. Instead, he just explained what he expected from everyone and what we could expect from him.
“Then, it was quickly down the business and the hard work.”
Clough, as Maguire acknowledged, emphasises the importance of substance rather than sharp soundbites and, having preached the value of stability after becoming United’s ninth manager in six years, proved as good as his word by electing to tweak rather than dismantle the starting 11 he inherited from caretaker Chris Morgan.
Marlon King, who dovetailed well with Taylor before visibly tiring as the match wore on, returned to the attack while full-back Simon Lappin, recently signed on loan from Cardiff City, was deployed in a more advanced role.
However it was Maguire, now United’s leading goalscorer, who emerged as the unlikely match-winner after converting two expert deliveries from McGinn.
Crewe, once a model of consistency, are no longer immune to the vagaries of English football, with Steve Davis’ appointment 23 months ago the seventh managerial change their have made since Dario Gradi’s 20-year reign ended in 2003.
Unless the former Barnsley centre-half can arrest their slide down the table then an eighth could soon be on the cards.
“I find myself saying the same things to the players after every game,” Davis said. “I’ve given people lots of opportunities so we could probably do with bringing a few more in.”
George Ray, who had been detailed to shadow Maguire, failed to track the United youngster, first allowing him to convert a stooping header following a well-taken free-kick before compounding his error from a corner.
The hosts, who had earlier seen Steve Phillips thwart Taylor when the striker attempted to apply the finishing touch to a delightful move instigated by Flynn, increased their advantage when the Scottish winger powered a long-range drive between the Crewe goalkeeper’s outstretched palm and the near post. “Steve should have stopped it,” Davis lamented.
But Phillips’ United counterpart, George Long, who produced a good save to deny Abdul Osman before Maguire’s opener, was powerless to prevent Clayton from prodding home.
“We made a really poor start to the season but hopefully that is all behind us now and we can push on from here,” Maguire said. “We’ve given ourselves something to build on, regrouped and got that winning feeling back again. We want to make sure we keep it too.”