Two goals on the stroke of half-time calmed jittery nerves as Carlisle United set themselves on the way to their first home victory since the end of September against League One’s lowest scorers and leakiest defence.
Struggling Crewe remain rooted in the bottom four following another abject display of defending.
But the three points, which ended a run of five league games without victory for the Cumbrians, provided a much-needed boost for a home crowd which has been starved of regular wins.
United didn’t have it all their own way, though, and they had a real scare as early as the third minute when Leitch-Smith swung a dipping corner at the near post. Vadaine Oliver got to it first and Chris Chantler did well to hook it off the line as it angled for the bottom corner.
The home side brushed off the incident and took the game by the scruff of the neck as they camped inside the Crewe half.
A flowing move of neat one-touch football brought an exchange between Miller and Berrett which left the midfielder with a clear path to goal. Etheridge raced off his line to close things down and he spread himself to make the block when the shot eventually came.
But the visitors were robbed of their own moment of glory on 25 minutes when a high free kick put the Cumbrians under real pressure.
Liam Noble miscued a clearing header back into the box and Vadaine Oliver executed a perfect overhead kick which bounced over the line off the angle of post and bar.
His celebrations were cut short when he realised that referee Andy Haines had brought the move to a premature end for a suspected Dugdale head injury, much to the disgust of the Alexandra bench.
Growing tension was eased for Carlisle when a devastating two-minute spell right on the stroke of half-time left them two goals to the good. Dave Symington connected with a trademark sweet volley and it appeared that Sean O’Hanlon got just enough of a touch to bulge the back of the net.
And the lead was doubled in time added on as the Crewe back line fell asleep on the job. Matt Robson was left to go one-on-one with Etheridge and he made it five for the season as he expertly picked his spot.
United dominated and Berrett rattled the bar as shots on target tally ticked over, but there was work for Ben Amos to do when Tootle created space with a purposeful run.
The keeper needed two hands to push the testing shot away. And he blocked twice in quick succession as the corner came in with Ellis swinging a wild boot as the ball bobbled around in the box.
Crewe kept pushing but Amos made the save of the night when Oliver beat the offside trap. It looked to be a certain goal until the keeper spread himself to make a point-blank save. Harry Davis later forced an injury-time consolation for Crewe but Carlisle held firm.
CARLISLE UNITED: Amos, Chimbonda, Ehmer, O’Hanlon, Chantler, Thirlwell (Buaben 67), Berrett, Noble (Guy 81), Symington, Robson, Miller. Subs (not used): Fleming, Livesey, Amoo, Potts, Beck.
Goals: O’Hanlon (45), Robson (45).
CREWE ALEXANDRA: Etheridge, Tootle, Mellor, Davis, Ellis (Waters 58), Dugdale, Osman, Leitch-Smith (West 82), Moore, Oliver, Evans. Subs (not used): Garratt, Guthrie, Nolan, Audel, Aneke.
Referee: Andy Haines. Attendance: 2,969