Crewe, who spent 75 years lodged in the bottom half of the Football League until winning promotion through the play-offs last May, were muscled out by West Brom, who have started the season with two wins and high hopes of returning to more prosperous times after several years of under-achievement.
Despite shortcomings in defence, Dario Gradi's youthful side recovered from the concession of an early penalty to lead 2-1 with 28 minutes left after Mark Rivers scored a fine goal following a slick exchange of passes with Steve Garvey.
But they were exposed and overpowered by West Brom's determined pursuit of victory after Harford replaced the tiring Paul Peschisolido with Hughes, whom he bought from GM Vauxhall Conference side Kidderminster in the summer.
Hughes' first goal came at the end of a penetrating passing move, when he shot past the goalkeeper Jason Kearton in a crowded penalty area. Crewe were ready to settle for a point, but Hughes punished slack defending again in stoppage time when he wriggled past the defender Ashley Westwood.
West Brom supporters leapt over the advertising boards to celebrate as Crewe walked back to their stations in a procession of hung heads. But Gradi did not deny the justice of the scoreline. "Our defenders were not good enough," he said. "I know Hughes can score goals, but it was just too easy for him. Our Under-14s would have defended the last one better."
The visitors set out to frighten Gradi's undergraduates, denying them the chance to settle with an energetic opening thrust that disregarded the sapping heat. They might have scored twice or three times before Andy Hunt, brought down by Chris Lightfoot, beat Kearton from the penalty spot.
But when Dele Adebola, Crewe's centre-forward, put the home side level with a mishit shot, West Brom lost momentum and a little belief and Harford sent on Hughes 10 minutes into the second half in a calculated attempt to inject new enthusiasm into his team.
Meanwhile, the home side were enjoying their most promising spell, capped when Rivers delightfully fired them in front and almost bringing a second goal when Adebola thumped a fierce shot against the bar. Unhappily for them, however, their ascendancy did not have the legs to reach the finish.