Murray makes impressive dent at Masters

On-loan Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin, returning Addick Chris Powell and fellow debutant Darren Ambrose - sent off for an awful second-half challenge on Stephen Wright - also featured at the Stadium of Light.

With Gonzalo Sorondo, currently suspended, and American full-back Jonathan Spector - on loan from Manchester United, but struggling with a hamstring problem - and other new faces still to contribute, it certainly is a much-changed squad from last season.

Curbishley was in no doubt he needed an influx of fresh talent to avoid a repeat of the dip in form which saw his side fade badly back from UEFA Cup contention to finish 11th following a run of just one victory from their final 14 Premiership games.

The Charlton boss has revealed he is currently tracking two more targets at top-flight clubs - reported to be former Addicks midfielder Lee Bowyer, now with Newcastle, and Everton striker Marcus Bent - which would further extend his options for the battles ahead.

Thomas - who recently penned a new, three-year deal with Charlton - replaced Dennis Rommedahl after an hour last weekend, and is not fazed by the prospect of battling for his first-team place.

"I want to play a bigger role than I did last season," he declared.

"Then I broke into the team and it was a case of me getting used to the Premiership - now the players know and understand my game better and I know theirs better too.

"I'm a lot more confident after last season, but I'm not worried about competition.

"I knew Curbs would make a lot of signings in the summer, but the competition's good.

"There are no guarantees for any player. It means you have to perform. If not you're out of the side.

"Like Curbs says, you can't have a squad of 25 happy players, because someone's going to be out -that's a healthy thing for the club."

With Ambrose now set to serve a three-match ban for his red card last weekend, the Charlton manager could elect to play both Thomas and Denmark winger Rommedahl against Premiership newcomers Wigan at The Valley on Saturday.

Former England youth international Thomas, 22, started his career at Highbury, but found his progress limited at Highbury. He had been sent out to QPR for two loan spells to try to give him a taste of first-team football, after twice winning the FA Youth Cup with the Gunners.

However, despite the offer of a year-long extension to his Arsenal contract, the winger decided it was time to move on to further his career and was snapped up by Charlton in a bargain �100,000 deal during the 2004 January transfer window.

After making his first-team debut for the Addicks four months later, Thomas picked up an injury and took a while to force his way back into Curbishley's plans, before making 21 starts last season and scoring a fine goal against Tottenham in March.

And as for the prospect of more first-team competition, Thomas added in the South London Press: "I see it as a challenge and I will use that to motivate myself and try to improve. I will strive to get in the team - and then stay there.

"After all, it's not about individuals, it's about the team's success."

Despite a promising pre-season and impressive result on the opening day, Curbishley continues to play down his side's chances of breaking into the shake-up for European qualification.

But Thomas maintained: "We were seventh last year with five games to go and ended up 11th, so Europe is a realistic goal.

"I think the club want us to talk it down, but why? Why not talk about it? We have to make this club progress and Europe is the next step up for this club.

"The squad has more strength now and our ambitions have to match that fact."

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