City finally ended their winless league run at Ashton Gate with a first home victory since March.
A game which looked destined to finish goalless swung in favour of the hosts when Jay Emmanuel-Thomas broke the deadlock 11 minutes from time with his tenth league goal of the season.
Crawley responded well to falling behind, but were exposed on the counter-attack by Joe Bryan’s sweet strike late on.
Sean O’Driscoll made four changes to his side held to a 1-1 draw at home to Oldham Athletic on Saturday.
Karleigh Osborne was handed his City debut, while fellow loanee Simon Gillett was upgraded from a weekend substitute appearance to a starting berth.
Elsewhere, Bryan and Sam Baldock were both recalled as Aden Flint, Marvin Elliott, Bobby Reid and Ryan Taylor all dropped to the bench.
There were a couple of early alarms for a home crowd still awaiting a first league win of the season at Ashton Gate.
Crawley’s Jamie Proctor tiptoed his way towards the edge of the box, but resisted the urge to shoot and Osborne stepped in to make an important intervention.
Then Nicky Adams showed a clean pair of heels to namesake Shorey before dragging his shot wide from an inviting position.
In between times, Emmanuel-Thomas climbed highest to meet Brendan Moloney’s but was unable to keep his header on target.
It was a very open start. Before the stadium clock had reached the ten-minute mark, Bryan had got around the back of the visitors’ back four only to send his low cross into the arms of Town keeper Paul Jones.
City’s defending was leaving plenty to be desired. Gillett conceded possession on the edge of his own box and Osborne’s clearance ricocheted straight to Adams whose attempted one-two with Kyle Bennett was bright in its thinking but ineffective in its execution.
Crawley’s approach play was sharp, and Proctor’s first-time lay-off was hit sweetly by Emile Sinclair but too close to Elliot Parish, who turned the ball behind for a corner.
All of the above took place inside the opening 17 minutes, yet the first half then descended into a scrappy affair in which both sides struggled to maintain possession for even a handful of passes at a time.
City did threaten to wrestle control shortly before the break when Emmanuel-Thomas and Bryan combined, only for the winger to just get the ball stuck under his feet at the worst possible moment ten yards from goal.
The Bristolian, one of the Robins’ better performers in an uninspiring first half display, did test Paul Jones from distance on his right foot, but his firmly struck shot was too central to trouble the visiting keeper.
The game’s resumption sparked suggestions of a new lease of life about the home team when Baldock, previously so peripheral, picked the ball up just inside the Crawley half and drove at the black-shirted defence before unleashing a stinging low shot that forced Jones into a plunging save down to his right.
Slowly but surely the City threat was increasing. Another Bryan burst down the left produced a low cross which somehow reached Derrick Williams at the back post, only for the defender to scuff his attempt wide from eight yards.
But Crawley were not content to settle for a point. Skipper Josh Simpson weaved his way into the box only to be denied by a Shorey tackle, before defender James Hurst skipped inside on to his left foot but saw his shot cannon against the sprawling Williams, who blocked superbly.
Chances remained at a premium, but pint-sized midfielder Gillett tried his luck from 20 yards with a skimming shot wide of the near post.
Just as the contest looked destined to finish goalless, City’s go-to man provided Ashton Gate with the moment the natives had waited eight months to see.
A defensive mix-up left former Robins target Kyle McFadzean facing his own goal in a foot race with Emmanuel-Thomas, who was too quick and too strong for the defender, shrugging him to one side before finishing in typically composed fashion.
The relief was tangible, but Crawley were far from finished. Almost immediately Adams found a cross from the left which Proctor headed goalwards and Parish had to help over his own crossbar.
From the resulting corner, the Town striker was left alone at the back post but lifted his shot over the crossbar as the home fans held their breath.
Baldock had the perfect chance to make the game safe seven minutes from time, as another McFadzean mistake left a City striker one-on-one with Jones, but this time the keeper stood tall and blocked with his legs.
Any fears of the Robins living to regret that chance were laid to rest when Bryan broke free unopposed, ignored Baldock to his right and rifled a left-foot shot like an arrow into the net at Jones’ near post.
Five added minutes extended the pain, but a win and a clean sheet offered double reason to cheer at the finale.