DEAN McDonald will make his final Hartlepool United appearance tomorrow after Ipswich boss Joe Royle insisted the striker must return to Portman Road.

Following an impressive four-week spell at Victoria Park, boss Martin Scott had hoped to keep the striker over the Christmas programme.

But Royle insisted when he allowed McDonald to head north that he was only going for four weeks and injuries to four members of his squad have strengthened his resolve.

"It's a blow because he's been impressive and the fans have really taken to him here,'' said Scott. "But we have players in the squad who I know are more than capable of doing a job there for us.

"Of course, we would like to keep him here for a bit longer, but Ipswich want him back and there's nothing we can do.

"We were fortunate to get him here in the first place. It's not very often players of his calibre come along, and we are thankful to Joe Royle for that.''

Scott is unable to sign anyone until the January 1 transfer window. Strikers Adam Boyd and Joel Porter won't return next month, with February a likely return date for the first-choice strikers.

Scott revealed McDonald's return at yesterday's AGM at Victoria Park, when an operating loss of £184,000 was recorded for the year to December 2004.

That was an improvement on the previous 12 months, when £531,000 was lost.

The deficit means the club is now funded to the tune of £5.4m by owners Increased Oil Recovery Ltd since the Aberdeen-based company took control in 1997.

The improved year-on-year performance includes the gate receipts from the FA Cup tie at Sunderland and the play-off games with Bristol City.

This year's play-off campaign, which saw Pool play in front of over 60,000 fans at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, will affect next year's financial statement.

Chairman Ken Hodcroft said: "Since IOR took over we have reached the play-offs four times, achieved automatic promotion and reached the play-off final once.

"We believe such continued success has never been achieved before at the club and it is down to a very dedicated staff.

"We expect 100 per cent commitment and have a squad and management team who currently give that. We look at the bigger picture and not necessarily every single game or result.

"We must not be negative after a few bad results and not too confident after a few bad ones.

"Gradual progress, we believe, is the key to success.''

Player wages fell by three per cent from £1.75m to £1.69m and turnover increased from £2.2m in 2003 to £2.8m in 2004.

Hodcroft added: "I believe we can look forward with optimism and the club remains in a strong position for the long term.''

The club is currently in talks with Hartlepool Borough Council to buy Victoria Park. IOR have spent £3.5m on ground improvements over the years and are keen to own the ground before pressing ahead with future development plans.

A presentation was made to council officials at the start of the month and the club is awaiting a response.

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